August 1998 / Special Feature : An Issue Of Trust
Trust In Whom
by Peter Block
Emergency Room Physician
Air Traffic Controller
In God We Trust, All Others Pay Cash
This less than subtle placard hung over cash registers during the great depression of the 1930s, but its message was hardly universal. So long as stock held out, grocers extended credit to regular customers. People bartered. Family doctors collected stacks of I.O.U.s. Deadbeats were few; people in the same boat trusted one another.
Trust has always been the moral currency of daily life.
Where risk is taken, trust is involved. Willi Unsoeld, one of the mountain
climbers who put Old Glory atop Mt. Everest, later said he felt he took
his greatest risk getting married. Starting a new life is risky business;
marital vows pledge mutual trust in the hope of lifetime benefits.
Herb Peters, employee involvement representative for Fords National Program Center in Detroit, recalls the problems then facing the auto industry: The nation was in a recession. Fuel prices were rising due to the oil embargo and deregulation. As the 1980s began, the U.S. auto industry was mired in deep recession. Sales had plummeted and all the domestic producers were experiencing serious financial problems. It was clearto Ford, at leastthat the trouble was not simply due to the business cycle. There was a need for improved quality and greater customer satisfaction. Other factors included lack of trust in the workplace, ill-defined corporate values and decades of adversarial labor-management relations. Above all, there was the explosive growth in worldwide competition.
Why is Ford in business? To make money. And money is not a dirty word, adds Gary Smotherman, international representative on the United Auto Workers (UAW)-Ford staff. The UAW stands for job and income security, but there is no guarantee. There was a need for improved quality and greater customer satisfaction, and labor and management would have to work together in Detroit and all other U.S. plant locations.
Company Rights vs. Employee Rights
Eighty percent, Peters hastens to point out, are good, solid workers. Ten percent are exceptional; ten percent dont seem to care. Where should attention be focused? On just that last ten percent with grievances? No, we must care for the others, or soon they may care less.
People resist change, Smotherman interjects. The company has rights; the union has rights. The employees have rights: to be treated with respect, to expect cooperation in safety issues, to be evaluated regularly, to be encouraged in development potential and to share in gains of the company.
Labor-management relationships were essential to bring about change and to ensure those rights. It was here that risk and trust entered the process.
In building effective labor-management partnerships,
both parties must be willing to take a risk, Herb Peters stresses.
Parties must be willing to share information, to share decision-making
and business strategies, to be open and honest. It is a difficult and critical
effort. It must be done gradually. It involves more than mere empowerment.
Recipe for Trust
In employment security, trust is most important in resolving issues, Smotherman continued. It is impossible to succeed in any joint process unless you address trust. There must be clear roles and responsibilities; there must be respect and integrity.
There must also be commitment and accountability, Peters added. Leadership is more important than managing. Communicate, evaluate yourself and give recognition. If a kid gets all As and only one D, we tend to focus on the D. Recognition must be positive. Commend those As. Give credit where its due.
Smotherman recalled having heard Desert Storm Commander Norman Schwarzkopf give a speech, after which a Detroit woman thanked him for having brought her son safely home. To which the General replied, No, ma'am. I didnt do anything. Thank your son for bringing me home safe.
In 1990, UAW-Ford issued a letter of understanding incorporating the relationship between the Employee Involvement and Best-in-Class quality programs. An agreement in 1993 gave further strength to employee involvement and a concept of continuous improvement fully supported by the leadership of the UAW National Ford Department and the company.
For Ford to remain a viable competitor and provide the opportunity for employee job security, it declared, every location must improve continuously to enable the company to achieve its objective of being the preeminent producer and marketer of cars and trucks with the highest customer satisfaction in North America by the year 2000.
First, Peters and Smotherman agree, has been the assurance that employee commitment at all levels is still the bedrock of all corporate strategies.
Ford has 160 plants on five continents, and we were involved with 61 locations in the United States, Peters reports. We found that ninety percent of the workers WANT to be involved.
To achieve employee commitment, Peters and Smotherman say it is vital that managers recognize that, for the most part, they are dependent upon the power accorded to them by their subordinates. Without this willing cooperation, major projects are surely doomed, and even some of the most routine work will not get done well. Increasingly, power in the workplace must be shared.
Excellence is just as important to employees as it is to
management. Whatever their jobs, people want to be part of an organization
that is known for being best in its class. The UAW-Ford representatives
stress the great value in providing employees with meaningful opportunities
for professional and personal development.
Constant Communication Lasting Trust
In conclusion, Peters and Smotherman returned to the issue
We continually work on communication, cooperation and commitment; on the sharing of goals and visions, giving recognition, identifying clear roles and responsibilities and finally, on maintaining accountability.
For UAW-Ford, these are the key elements of trust.